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Cake Bakers/Decorators?! Need help deciding size needed!

Hi everyone! I'm making a cake for 40-50 people this weekend for a birthday party and wanted to do a pretty tiered cake. This is my first time doing a cake for this many people and have NO IDEA how to decide how many tiers and what sizes to make each layer. :(
Does anyone here have experience with this? Would it be easier to buy round cake pans of varying sizes and stack them? Or do a sheet cake and cut out rectangles and stack those? Round is definitely prettier! I want to decorate it with buttercream (no fondant) and put fresh roses and just a simple buttercream scalloped border around the bottom of each layer.

What size cake pans and how many do I need for a cake for this many people?

HELP!! :D Please?! :)

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  1. I find this helpful with cake sizes:

    http://www.wilton.com/cakes/cake-cutt...

    If you want to tier it, I'd suggest reading the section in the Wilton site about how to do it. It's not as easy as just putting one cake on another. You need to make sure it's supported. Have you priced varying round pan sizes, the tiers, the cake bases? I haven't looked in a while, but it was more than I expected. It all adds up really quickly. If I were going to do it and wanted to keep costs down, I'd probably bake two 9x13 pans of cake (you can split them if you want to fill them) and have them side by side so you have an 18'x13' cake for a base. Then, I'd bake two 9" rounds and fill them and stack that on top of the rectangular base. If you're bringing the cake somewhere, transporting the cake is another issue. Cutting the cake, if it's rectangular or square is easier but cutting large round cakes, getting concentric circles, is harder. I cut the ends off to make it round, when it comes to serving, but it's taken a lot of practice to make sure some pieces aren't all frosting. Cake servings are only 1 1/2" x 2" so you get more cake than you'd expect. I always have a lot of leftovers because I'm stressed about running out.

    1. Your quantities would be about right with two 9" layers and two 6" layers (round). But if you went for 10" and 6" you could probably just bake one layer of each, split them horizontally, and fill and frost generously with buttercream. That would save you some baking. Another advantage of going for the 10" is that you'd have a bigger "step" between the two layers to decorate with roses. But it's also fun and stylish to stack the top tier off-center on a 9" and 6", effectively making a front and a back side of the cake decorating-wise.

      "The Cake Bible" is truly a bible for the tiered cake baker--check it out for some good tips. But with all respect to chowser, stacking is a piece of cake--cut a cardboard round slightly smaller than your top layer for its base, and sink 3 or 4 plastic drinking straws into the bottom layer as inner supports (after frosting it, and then cut them to size). I've even made three-tier wedding cheesecakes that were solid--the only hard part was getting them in and out of the car.

      btw I've found a 10" butter cake recipe is the same volume as a 9x13--and is double the recipe for an 8". Have fun, and write with more questions!

      10 Replies
      1. re: heidipie

        How heavy of a cake can drinking straws hold up? Can you stack multiple tiers with them (will the first layer with 3-4 straws hold the weight of the whole cake)? They'd be much easier to cut than what I've used. I've used those hollow plastic tubes for cakes because the layers can get pretty heavy. I've used wooden dowels, too (or disposable chopsticks). But, if I'm using pillars, I use the cake plate that attach to the pillars which is another expense.

        In terms of transporting, it took me a while to figure out how to move a large cake since I don't like to have it sit exposed. I used to buy cake/pastry boxes for the cake but it got to be expensive, with multiple layers, plus it could be hard to find the right size box. I finally settled on putting them on the lid of square rubbermaid containers, using the bottom as the cover. Non-skid mat below when it goes in the car. It protects the cake well. There are a lot of little logistics that's taken me time to work out.

        1. re: chowser

          I hadn't thought about using straws before, but I just saw on old episode of Baking With Julia in which Martha Stewart used straws in a large wedding cake. She pointed out how strong the straws really are, though I think she also put narrow dowels inside the straws for added support.

          http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/meet/st... (see the 3rd clip)

          1. re: Chocolatechipkt

            I wonder why you'd need both straws and dowels. I'd just use the dowels then. But, disposable chopsticks work great (and they're free). They're easier to cut than dowel rods which need a saw.

            Darn, something isn't working with my computer and I can't watch the video. It looks informative. I was just looking at the Martha Stewart Wedding Cake book at the library and there are some fun ideas.

            1. re: chowser

              The cake she made is beautiful, and she did have some pretty good info. The cake is in the Baking With Julia cookbook, and re-runs of the show come up on WETA-Create every so often.

          2. re: chowser

            Three or four straws would be adequate for a 6" layer, but for lower/bigger ones you'd need to use more. I once made a five-layer carrot wedding cake, one layer each of 14", 12", 10", 8" and 6". I don't remember how many straws I used, but it was probably a whole bunch.

            I think I remember reading a Martha wedding cake recipe, where she put holes in the cardboard rounds and shoved the one dowel through the whole shebang. Sounded like Martha-style hypervigilance to me. You could drive a cake like that up to Mt. Tam in a Miata!

            1. re: heidipie

              Thanks--I t didn't know straws could hold that much weight, especially with all those tiers. I'd probably forget where I put them, though, and people would end up eating straws. The hollow plastic dowels are harder to cut but easy to find. That one long dowel actually sounds like a good idea to me to keep all the layers straight. I've had problems w/ an outdoor wedding when it got hot and the layers started sliding. I had to take it apart and put it back together closer to the ceremony but the big dowel would have held it in place.

          3. re: heidipie

            Thanks to everyone for all the amazing information! I've been wracking my brain and decided maybe a 12" and an 8" (I already have an 8" pan so that would save me some money) Is baking ONE pan of each size enough to serve that many people? I doubt people will be eating large slices as there is a big lunch before hand.

            I LOVE the cake bible. I don't actually own a copy... yet. But I tried out her Neoclassic buttercream and her lemon curd to fill the cake with and both were delicious. The buttercream was so light and not too sweet...and EASY to make it was ridiculous! :)

            I tried out Martha Stewart's 1-2-3-4 Lemon cake recipe as I've read great reviews but I thought it was way too dense and wasn't happy with it at all. I wanted something lighter to go along with the curd and buttercream. So I've heard again, the Cake Bible's "all occasion downy cake" is supposed to be good. Have you tried that recipe? I'm thinking of risking it and just making it without a trial run because at this point I seem to trust her recipes and I'm tired of testing lemon cakes (which are not my favorite flavor by far!)

            1. re: junglekitte

              Junglekitte, if you decide to go for a 12" pan, definitely do a little reading on baking large cakes. A 12" cake is really pretty darn big, and it's harder to get the center baked without the edges getting dried out. Another issue with a 12"-8" stack is if you do only one layer of each, it'll be wider than it is tall.

              If you're going to buy one pan, make it a 10" because you're more likely to use it again. You can always trim your 8" layer to make it a more suitable size for the top tier.

              OTOH, a double layer 12" cake is a showstopper all by itself.

              1. re: heidipie

                Oh too bad I didn't see your message before I made the cake. I ended up with a 12, 8, and 6 tiered cake. And you were SOOOO RIGHT! The 12" layer was burnt on the edges before the center was baked enough. I ended up cutting all the darker parts off the outside of the cake to salvage it. But it ended up just fine!

                So how DOES one bake a 12" without messing up like I did? :(

                1. re: junglekitte

                  Ideally by putting a piece of metal in the middle -- there are items they sell called cake cores, or alternatively you can use a flower nail (a big nail that is used as a base to make frosting flowers with in cake decorating).

          4. I've done a wedding cake (45 guests) for a friend's wedding. I believe it was 12, 8, and 6 inch rounds (4 inches deep) and made each tier a single layer pound cake (no filling in the middle), covered in buttercream and served with a raspberry curd (to cut the sweetness from the cake). We also use dowels and cardboard rounds to hold it up (since each layer was so heavy!). Good luck!